ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Wild entered the playoffs without much postseason experience and were facing a Chicago Blackhawks team that has plenty of playoff-tested veterans.
Handling the increased pressure, where every shift is magnified in a best-of-seven series is new to many of Minnesota’s players. They’re learning first-hand how to handle the postseason.
“This is part of the playoffs is dealing with those emotions, right?,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “We lost Game 1 and probably sitting there saying, ‘You know, it wasn’t too bad. It could have went the other way.’ And then last game we got crushed. So, how do you bounce back from that? That’s the challenge. The good teams and the teams that move on in the playoffs are the teams that are able to do that.”
Hosting the first home playoff game in five years may make facing that 2-0 deficit a little easier on the Wild. Minnesota is expecting a raucous crowd at the Xcel Energy Center for Game 3 on Sunday afternoon, not the nervous tension amongst the fan base that existed as the Wild tried to close out the regular season.
But Minnesota isn’t looking at a return home as a cure-all against the league’s best regular-season team. The Wild hope to capture momentum since holding an early 1-0 lead against Chicago in Game 1.
“I think this place is going to be rocking tomorrow and we’re excited for that,” Yeo said. “We wish that it was different scenario, instead of coming back down 2-0. But the reality is we’re going into tomorrow’s game with the opportunity to play the first home game in five years, and we should be excited about that.”
Mikko Koivu was one of just four players on the last Minnesota playoff team in 2008 and is looking forward to getting to experience another home playoff game.
“It’s just a little bit more from the regular season in everything about it,” Koivu said. “So, it’s a cool feeling. I’ve been waiting for that for a long time, so we’re excited to get home.”
The Wild are returning home with a realistic view of their situation as well. After taking the first game to overtime, they know the performance in Game 2 wasn’t good enough. Minnesota lost 5-2 and were outshot 48-28, with Chicago controlling play much of the game in its offensive zone.
Yeo said the team identified some areas to improve and worked on them in practice, without revealing too much of the possible changes.
“We’re looking forward to Game 3,” forward Zach Parise said of returning home. “Most important we’re just looking forward to having a better effort, putting together a better game than we had in Game 2. You could tell they brought a level from Game 1 to Game 2 and we didn’t do that. So now, I just think we have to be a little sharper.”
Yeo said he’s been on teams that have recovered from 2-0 deficits. He knows emotions come into play, especially in playoff series and the onus is on the Wild to capture the positive emotion and regain some momentum in the series.
His relatively young team now has some playoff experience from taking part in two games at Chicago. The Wild hope they can flip the script at home. And any excuse about not being playoff tested has to be put aside.
“What’s important now, we can’t play like young kids,” Yeo said. “It doesn’t matter. We can’t just say, ‘We played well for a young guy.’ It’s got to just be, ‘We played well.’ Because you’re on our team, you’re on our team for a reason and we’re here to win hockey games. Again, the first game was a good game. The second game was not and now we’re just turning our attention to Game 3.”